Tweetable Takeaway: Spectre’s action scenes thrill, but are lost in hours of exposition and low stakes. Tweet
Nothing like a good shadow organization to make a super agent’s day. Earlier in the year Ethan Hunt was tracking down the Syndicate in Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. Now James Bond has a secret society of bad guys all to himself called Spectre. Add in a venerable villain actor and what could wrong? Unfortunately, SPECTRE never sets its own stakes and spends most of its overlong runtime on backstories and exposition, making for a less than exciting entry in the Bond franchise.
A thrilling sequence opens the movie. Shot beautifully and moodily in a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, a long tracking shot finds our hero masked in a skull and on the hunt after a man. We aren’t given any information on who the man is, why Bond is following him, and the best part is, we don’t really need to. Through the course of the scene we learn there’s a bomb, and the situation becomes more pressing. An aerial fight ensues, and by all impressions, the movie is off and running.
Until the credits sequence finishes, that is. The song by Sam Smith is serviceable if not a touch bland, and the sequence before every Bond film with girls and silhouettes is made uncomfortable by the presence of sexually suggestive octopi tentacles. Once the affair is over, it’s on to the film itself. James Bond is once again grounded by M (Ralph Fiennes), and we know Bond won’t acquiesce. He’s following a hint left by M (Judi Dench) about the man he killed in Mexico City. Luckily Bond made sure to grab the man’s ring with an octopus on it. The ring that just so happens to be his way into a secret meeting room of people from different nations speaking on the world’s acceptance of complete surveillance. Although it’s a given that the people in this room are supposed to be bad people, the entire affair is completely and utterly dull. They may as well have been discussing the benefits of different types of soil. Christoph Waltz comes strolling in as a character named Oberhauser and we immediately know he’s the biggest and baddest of them all. Why do we think that? Is it because he does something super sinister? It’s mostly because he’s played by actor Christoph Waltz who has cornered the villain market ever since Inglorious Basterds (even if he has yet to find a role as good).
The rest of the movie finds Bond trying to figure out who Oberhauser is and how to kill him. There’s no urgency to any of it, however. No overarching stakes are ever made imminently clear until the last ten minutes of the film. Bond goes on a treasure hunt, one exotic locale to another, but we’re never given a reason to care. The movie doesn’t even give Oberhauser or any of the bad guys at the table a reason for wanting surveillance. We’re never even told it’s bad, the movie simply uses the assumption that the audience will automatically equate surveillance with evil. But what exactly are anyone’s aims with all this surveillance? The movie never lets us in on it, perhaps letting the viewer fill in the blank.
Maybe it’s because most of the movie seeks to construct a throughline of all the Daniel Craig Bond movies. Much of it is spent referencing the past villains and girlfriends of Bond in Casino Royale and Skyfall, with only passing mentions at Quantum of Solace. Since the filmmakers have admitted that while writing and filming each entry there’s no looking ahead to the future and planning out how each movie will connect, there’s a feeling that the retconning isn’t entirely successful. Additionally, Spectre spends a lot of time continuing to examine Bond’s past and his childhood. All of this means the film spends most of its time looking at backstory instead of actual events occurring in the present. Exposition rules the day in Spectre, so much so it’ll leave moviegoers’ heads shaken, not stirred.
The few action setpieces that do exist in the movie are fantastic. The aforementioned opening scene is the highlight. Another has Bond giving chase in an airplane. Dave Bautista as Hinx is half-thought out but still one of the more entertaining parts of the movie. Hinx exists in the same vein as Oddjob and Jaws, but has to have one of the worst body gimmicks of any Bond henchman: silver tipped thumbs. Of which he only puts to use once. A cringe-inducing scene involving tiny drill bits should have most people squirming in their seats. Ultimately, these few pockets of entertainment are drowned in a sea of tedious plot development.
I give Spectre 2.5 silver-tipped thumbs out of 5
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor